Above: Ark Lady with New Cat Training Student “Mr B”
Last week I started training a new cat student, referred to here as Mr B.
Many people think that you cannot train cats. That is a bunch of hooey if I have ever heard any.
Most people allow their cats to train them and perhaps that is what creates the big confusion! Any animal can be trained–it just takes work.
My last cat was trained and loved to travel. People were always stunned at his behaviors–but if you watch television for any amount of time, the animals that appear in commercials and any shows are always trained animal actors.
My animal training career had a lot of cat training in the early years–only difference was that they were the big cats (lions, tigers, leopards, mountain lions, etc.,).
Mr B has been in my supervision for a couple of months. I put him on a diet as he was morbidly obese–and food reward is very motivating to him–which is not the case with all animals.
Anyway, back to Mr B…
I am using operant conditioning and a clicker to “mark” the behavior.
Marking a behavior is associating a signal with the behavior to indicate that the critter is doing the right thing to get a reward.
You can use anything to “mark” a behavior and lots of people use the word, “good.”
Prior to it meaning anything the signal has to be “charged.”
What does that mean?
Until the clicker is charged, the click is just a noise until it is associated with a primary reinforcer–in this case kitty kibble.
I wanted the clicker to become an IOU (for food reward) which also makes it a “secondary reinforcer.”
So, by association, the secondary reinforcer can be used instead of food in what trainer’s call a variable reinforcement schedule.
Confused? Don’t be, I’ll write on this more later but you can also click into the Animal Training area to explore more in-depth.
Anyway, to “charge” the clicker a trainer just clicks and delivers a treat.
Every animal is different but the first few sessions are just done to create that association. Some animals get it in about 40 clicks while others get it earlier or later.
Next step was to mark the behavior I desired.
In this case, he rushes into the kitchen in expectation at certain times of the day. The problem is that he is overly aggressive and pushy over the food.
Yeah, yeah, I can hear you now…it is NOT normal. He draws blood from his owner’s legs by batting or biting.
Anyway, since he is adopted after six months of being confined in a small cage, we suspect his lack of social grace is why he was in lockup for so long.
Now the biting and scratching has been almost completely extinguished–it was the first thing I did before we even started the training program.
The problem is that the owner often fails to take action or actually incites the behavior by her actions…more on this later.
Anyway, back to Mr B’s training…
Once he understood the clicker association, I began to click him for responding to “Out of the Kitchen.”
Imagine my delight when he “got” the process and began purring.
It surprised me since he is my first cat student to purr during training.
In fact, he purrs through every training session.
LOL it is very reinforcing for the trainer!
Now he does not rush into the kitchen but positions himself outside the perimeter in a variety of places.
Why, because it is more reinforcing!
He gets rewarded only outside of the kitchen. We also began varying the places where he was getting fed to extinguish the link between the food bowl location and the obsessive, aggressive behavior.
So, in every training program you have to have a plan. My training goals for Mr B are:
- keep him out of the kitchen unless called or traveling to another destination,
- extinguish the obsessive behavior around the food bowl,
- understand different words and their meanings,
- sit and wait for the okay to eat,
- step on a scale for weighing,
- and stop injuring the owner when she does stupid owner tricks.
Stay tuned for more updates in this series.